Monday, January 30, 2012

Why do we vote in churches?

I'm listening to the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It's a fascinating book about the interaction between intuition and deliberative thought (though he uses the terms "system 1" and "system 2" for those). In it, he discusses voting.
Our vote should not be affected by the location of the polling station, for example. But it is. A study of voting patterns in precincts in Arizona in 2000 showed that the support for propositions to increase the funding of schools was significantly greater when the polling station was in a school than when it was in a nearby location [1]. A separate experiment [1] showed that exposing people to images of classrooms and school lockers also increased the tendency of participants to support a school initiative.
(2:34:36, chapter 4) 
As far as I can recall, my voting station is always in a local church. Could that be helping our local Conservative politicians? Recall that in 2008, the Liberals lost our riding by a mere 17 votes.

[1] J. Berger, M. Meredith, and S. C. Wheeler, "Contextual priming: Where people vote affects how they vote," Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 105, no. 26, pp. 8846–8849, Jul. 2008. (link

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Great quote by Steven Pinker

I'm listening to an audiobook version of How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. It's excellent, if long (over 26 hours!). But it's a tour de force of human behaviour, with explanations from both neurology and evolutionary psychology.

Near the beginning of chapter 8, entitled "The Meaning of Life", Pinker writes,
Given that the mind is a product of natural selection, it should not have a miraculous ability to commune with all truths. It should have a mere ability to solve problems that are sufficiently similar to the mundane survival challenges of our ancestors.
According to a saying, "If you give a boy a hammar, the whole world becomes a nail", if you give a species an elementary grasp of mechanics, biology and psychology, the whole world becomes a machine, a jungle and a society.
He goes on to say that religion and philosophy are, in part, the application of mental tools to problems they were not designed to solve.